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I believe that there are very few businesses more challenging when it comes to profit, than restaurants. As I have previously pointed out, there are numerous reasons for this; however, one of the most significant is the management of perishable supplies. There is inherently, an unusually large amount of waste in the process of taking raw food and converting it to finished goods. This “waste” is rarely defined past the literal translation that infers that there is no other use for it. In reality, this “waste” is where the profit in food often lies.

The equivalent to re-defining food waste would be the age-old statement: “One man’s junk is another man’s treasure”. I have never been one to attend flea markets or even spend much time in antique stores, however I do recognize that some people are masters at seeing the potential in something that I would quickly discard. It is the same in restaurants. You must begin by first changing your vocabulary and looking at food as food, valuable and useable in the right hands with the right mindset.

I have often times used the translated discussion with Chef Marc Meneau from L’Esperance Restaurant in Vezelay, France when he told me: “American’s do not know how to make money in restaurants. They don’t realize that profit comes from the peels of the onion and the shells of the lobster and how chefs define – useable”. It really all begins with the time and effort put into menu planning and recipe development, understanding how food works during the process of cooking, and how to use an understanding of “methods” to properly extract flavor and build consistent results.

Another friend of mine, years ago stated that the best control device in kitchens is smaller garbage cans. His theory was that for some reason cooks feel obligated to fill garbage cans regardless of their size and the amount of business at hand. Once he replaced his large 30-gallon cans with 5-gallon receptacles he immediately noticed a positive impact on his cost of goods. We have become conditioned to the word waste and especially in busy restaurants, have become accustomed to discard before finding the time to utilize some parts of the raw materials that could be used effectively with enough thought.

If we stop to think about some basic realities the mental light bulb tends to shine a bit brighter. When you buy whole ingredients whether they be tenderloins of beef, whole salmon, or cases of produce what must first come to mind is that the cost per pound or cost per piece is the same for the trim as it is for the “typically useable” portion of the material. We commonly build our restaurant pricing on “yield”, vs. “at purchase” weight or price. This results in a selling price that will yield (hopefully) some level of profit. That “unused trimmed” is a potential source for additional profit – in fact it now becomes pure profit if we are able to plan effectively for it’s use.

Here are some simple examples: even though a proper stock will be drawn from precise proportions of mirepoix to bone, to water and vegetables are typically peeled, cut and prepared a certain way to yield a consistent product; the peels of onions, tops of celery, peels of carrots can all serve as a base for vegetable broth and foundation for your daily soups. The fat cap trim from your pork loins can serve as a component in your pate, the chain and boot trim from the beef tenderloin is a perfect addition to your ground beef for burgers, the shells from your shrimp for a fumet or reduced with butter as a cooking fat for sautéed scallops and so on. In all cases these “waste” products can help to stretch your profit margins or at least add flavor value to your cooking. Render your own duck fat from legs that you cook rather than purchasing it for $18 a pound, use your limp, but still flavorful herbs to make a pesto for canapés, cut your potatoes for pommes frites with the skin on to increase yield and add a rustic appearance to your fries, and have your baker save week old cakes for crumbs that can garnish the exterior of your finished desserts or even a partial substitute for some of the flour in cookies.

It is so easy to discard what is not easy to use, but it is the attentive and creative chef who sees this as the real opportunity to create a viable restaurant business. If all else fails, at least work on building a composting program that can utilize edible waste to serve as animal feed for local farmers or soil composting to support the next growth of crops.

I will admit that I have often found myself, as a chef, ignoring this reality and sometimes just need a prod from an attentive cook to put me back on track, or the shock of a food cost out of control that could spell real problems for the operation and its employees if left unchecked.

Profit in restaurants may seem like an oxymoron at times, but with great planning and constant monitoring, those peels and shells can make all the difference in the world.


Harvest America Ventures, LLC